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Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  1,037 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Storming Heaven is a riveting history of LSD and its influence on American culture. Jay Stevens uses the "curious molecule" known as LSD as a kind of tracer bullet, illuminating one of postwar America's most improbable shadow-histories. His prodigiously researched narrative moves from Aldous Huxley's earnest attempts to "open the doors of perception" to Timothy Leary's sur ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 2nd 1998 by Grove Press (first published 1987)
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 ·  1,037 ratings  ·  62 reviews

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Dec 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
This was a very good book. You get lots of interesting stuff about Aldous Huxley, the famous beat writers, Owsley, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and the evolution of the so called counterculture as a whole.

The problems that I have with Storming Heaven is not for what was in it but what was left out. For one Stevens was WAY too easy on Timothy Leary. The author seemed almost like a school girl with a crush when he recounts his visit to Learys home for an interview for the book. He comes off more as a
Erik Graff
Jun 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
In order to maintain the rigor of the physical sciences while maintaining that of ethics, Immanuel Kant performed a "Copernican Revolution" in philosophy by seeking the formal structures of reality in the human mind. This deep analysis, while ordinarily not regarded as necessary, the commonalities of human apperception being presupposed and therefore set aside in most of the sciences, is particualrly appropriate in psychopathology, parapsychology and in the studies of religion and of altered sta ...more
Mar 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. Manages the remarkable trick of being a solid historical account while still letting the feel of the times dictate the shape of the material. Also, for some, some serious nostalgia value.

No Problem James
Nov 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Although lacking in intellectual rigor and, especially, an index, it has a lively style and tells a fascinating story. It follows the the thread of one molecule through the birth of the 60s counterculture in America. There are four central protagonists--Albert Hoffman, Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Ken Kesey-- the scientist, the aesthete, the mystic, and the provocateur, respectively. These various roles relate intimately to their notions of the usefulness of this strange chemical: to unders ...more
Really fascinating and well-documented cultural history of the middle of the last century - not at all just about acid, though of course you learn A LOT about acid as well. If you are interested in psychology, literature, the rise of Western interest in Eastern philosophies, mid-sixties music, pharmaceutical research, the CIA, California, altered states, beatniks/hipsters/hippies/squares/burnouts/organization men, the early versions of the war against drugs, or the United States generally betwee ...more
Nov 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
fucking fantastic. stay way from salvia. trust me.
Aug 16, 2019 rated it did not like it
I hoped to give this book a high rating , but it was pretty much a bad trip . It was basically a history of the drug’s movement from a psychological instrument with promise , to theMid-60s hippie phenomena of San Francisco ‘hippies’ . The only parts I truly enjoyed was the background of master chemist Augustus Stanley Owsley III , and the Great Banana Conspiracy in the ‘Summer of Love’ . Book was a ‘Bummer of a Read’ . I had hoped for a flashback to my youth , but no .
Moises Pittounikos
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing

This book's about the spiritual sadhana, or practice, of getting high and what comes after. But what is it we are supposed to be practising? In Tibet, they don’t believe that death is lights out. What modern people are saying about the near death experience, the Tibetans are saying something similar, but they go one step further than the modern picture. The Tibetans claim to know what is beyond the near death experience, and this is why they talk about practice.

My previous book was a philosoph
Sara Gray
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
While so much of this book was a recapitulation of history I'd encountered before--Aldous Huxley and mescaline, Gordon Wassan and Maria Sabina, underground LSD psychiatry--this was the first time I really sat down and learned about the LSD trinity of Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert and the work of the Merry Pranksters. I've since reneged somewhat of my contempt for Leary's egotism, as it was apparent that in between the grandiose statements, he at least tried to advocate for a m ...more
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The rise and fall of the sincere effort to test the limits of human consciousness (and human behavior) through mind-expanding drugs. Now that LSD, psilocybin and others are making a small-scale, low-dose “comeback” in a clinical setting, it was interesting to learn that that’s also where the story of psychedelics began.

This riveting history charts the evolution of these experiments, and how they mutated, affected our culture in a profound way and, certainly, got out of hand. In our boxed-in wor
May 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
You know all about Leary's Harvard studies and Kesey's bus, but do you have any context for the pharmacological movement of what They sneeringly call 'the Sixties'? 20+ years after I first read it as a tie-dyed snot-nose, Jay Stevens' history of how and why humans choose to explore their sub/unconscious via psychedlics (and how we even came to call these drugs as such) remains a vital American History read. May the social powers that be one day reconsider the lessons learned on this trip, and ap ...more
Sep 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
,,,a good history of LSD and intertwined CIA fuckery and their 'tests' on an unwitting public as well as good background on it's other impacts on larger society...some myths were dispelled and some perpetuated, but Mr. Stevens' overall research is sound and his writing style clear and concise...I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to discover how certain powers in our nation actually view both th' populace and policies towards us regarding personal freedom and how cheaply both are regarded. ...more
Don LaVange
Jul 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A facinating journalistic history of LSD. It delves into the phenomenon I am very interested in, the birth of the flower children out of the ashes of the beats. Once they dropped acid they left their black berets behind and adopted the colors and edwardian glory of their innocent and naive rebellion.

A must read to understand the 60's and drug culture if you weren't there personally. I was but on the fray...
Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The clash between psychedelic drugs and 1950s American culture is one of the most riveting and fascinating periods in all of U.S. history. This book gives an overview of the who, why, and how, primarily from the perspective of those who were in favor of the drugs; it is a fair, objective account. Why was this promising class of drugs abandoned for 40 years? How did the CIA 'turn on' writer Ken Kesey and singer Robert Hunter of the Greatful Dead?
Frank Palardy
Feb 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: security-crime
Fairly good book from what I recall.
Rebecca McNutt
This intriguing book dives deep into the history of every hippie's favorite drug - LSD, and how it had such an influence on culture back in the day.
James Brechtel
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really interesting dive into that period and piece of American society. It casts a rather unforgiving light onto Leary, which I was not expecting.

Starting from Albert Hofmann and Aldous Huxley and ending with the summer of love and Leary going to jail...the book goes on a tour of the psychedelic revolution that feels quite complete, in the end. It touches briefly touches on the advent of 'designer drugs' like MDMA and Ketamine in the epilogue but nothing terribly substantive.

If you're interested
John Marricco
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Extremely interesting and well researched book. This is a serious psychological look at how the invention of LSD changed a generation. Being born in 1969 and just being able to catch the end of the Grateful Dead, it was interesting to me to see how things got from then to now. This book is not funny stories about the affects of a crazy drug. It is a comprehensive study of what chemicals can do to a person's brain, and how average man and the government dealt with them.
Apr 24, 2019 rated it liked it
I was hoping that this book would actually talk more about how LSD affected the baby boomer generation, and the 'failure' of the American Dream, but it was really more of a history of LSD use itself, rather than its long term affects.
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An even-handed, objective look into the history of LSD and its use and abuse by various users who understood "set and setting" as well as those who just wanted to get hammered a different way.
Aug 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For a history book of sorts, this was surprisingly easy to stay interested in for the duration. Still quite a bit of heavy reading and can be exhausting at times, but I feel as if the author did a stellar job of putting things in order and connecting them in a way that was easy to follow and hold all the events and people together. For such a complex subject, this was extremely well-done.

I also like the fact that the author wrote with a very open-minded tone. Both negative and positive aspects o
Bill Wallace
Aug 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Terrific social history. The first two-thirds of this book were as engaging as a good novel, real page-turning stuff. The early history of psychedelics reads like a Marx brothers film plot, with characters like Aldous Huxley, unlikely prophet of chemical ecstasy, and Al Hubbard, a high pressure LSD salesman who actually got a Catholic diocese to sanction his quest to use the drug to achieve beatitude. Woven through mid-century art, politics, entertainment, and science, LSD and its natural kindre ...more
Christopher Hinton
Nov 06, 2013 rated it liked it
It's been more than a decade since I read this book, but I've been thinking about it again recently as I try to tally more ratings to gain Goodread recommendations.

What I recall liking most about this history is the number of major 20th-century literary, intellectual and artistic figures it includes and their casual encounters with the 60s drug culture. Woody Guthrie and a drunk Jack Kerouac may not be such a surprise, but Anais Nin's meeting with Ken Kesey was.

I also recall it had some astute o
Robert Miller
Jul 29, 2015 rated it liked it
I first became interested in this book after reading that this is the book that inspired author Allan Glynn to write the book that became the Bradley Cooper starting film, "Limitless".

The book closely examines a slice of culture in the 50s and 60s, that has become almost forgotten. Mostly detailing the hippie scene in California, the book takes many interesting turns detailing things even the most interested historian might not know.

Detailing the countering forces of 60s free expression, and la
Curtis Seven
Nov 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Interesting book that details some of the history of the drug made notorious in the 1960s but also used in a surprising number of venues by among others Timothy Leary of Harvard. Halucinogens in modest amounts continued to be legally administered in some states in psychotherapy situations monitored by physicians to treat among other things depression. Outlawed in the 1980s they helped pave the way for more refined reality altering substances such as the Prozac family of medications. This book de ...more
Andy Theyers
No book about LSD will ever be balanced, but this one does a fine job of telling both the West and East coast stories (unlike Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test which, despite his New York roots is heavily biased to the chaos of the West Coast). Covering LSD from its early beginnings right through to the end of the Sixties and beyond this is a must read for anyone with even the vaguest interest of where popular culture has its roots. ...more
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Re-read, 09/2018: This remains a great book. Limiting the scope to a few key players and nothing past the early 70’s, Storming Heaven presents an intricate, detailed story of the early years of LSD. Recommended to anyone even remotely interested in the story of psychedelics.

a fantastic read, this book goes into much more detail beyond the c.i.a.'s involvement with lsd. this book makes an excellent companion volume to acid dreams.
Duncan O'neill
Apr 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I first read this about 20 years ago, and wanted to revisit it to find out whether it was as good the second time around. It was. Brilliant at drawing links and contrasts between Huxley, the Beats, Kesey & the Pranksters, Leary, and the ( other ) psychologists, and ( some of ) the part the CIA played. But more than that, Stevens' writing style is right up there, he's an ace at choosing exactly the right word, the right phrase, making it all the more entertaining, accurate, and easy to read. ...more
Arthur Vincie
Nov 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recently re-read. A really engaging, fast-moving social history of the use of psychedelics in the U.S. and Europe, starting in the late 19th century and ending in the '80s. It connects the social/political/medical threads connecting Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, Osmond, Huxley, Heard, Leary, Kesey, Ginsberg (to name just a few of the more prominent characters in the story). The book also asks some serious questions about American mainstream culture and values along the way.
May 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I have been curious about LSD for a very long time. This book looks at the history of LSD/LSD culture, and was an absolutely fascinating read. I had no idea that such a variety of American icons could be connected, and through this? An incredible read, regardless of whether or not you are or have been a consumer of psychotropics etc.
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Dystopias, alien invasions, regenerated dinosaurs, space operas, multiverses, and more, the realm of science fiction takes readers out of this ...
284 likes · 265 comments
“Reading through the monographs, you could sense the confusion that LSD had created in the scientific community, when, using it as a deep probe into the unconscious, it had stirred up something that looked very much like their archenemy, the mystic religious experience!” 0 likes
“Возможно, причина этого была в том, что отказ от старых ценностей и рефлексов произошел до того, как им была найдена достойная замена. И этого не ожидали. Хиппи, кислотники — все они пребывали в растерянности, впервые осознав, что за каждый сантиметр новой территории, за каждую крупицу расширенного сознания тоже придется чем-то платить.

Платить по-разному. Например, мог ли кто-нибудь, всерьез познакомившись с ЛСД, вернуться к своей обычной работе менеджера по рекламе и сидеть на службе от звонка до звонка? Именно поэтому многие хиппи становились фермерами, ремесленниками, мелкими предпринимателями. У большинства психоделический опыт приводил к очевидному сдвигу системы ценностей, нежеланию играть в «игры власти», отказу от честолюбивых устремлений. У них исчезала соответствующая мотивация, и они отказывались от погони за деньгами. Но при этом у них отсутствовала альтернатива. Впоследствии именно из этой пустоты, из отсутствия альтернативы, вынуждавшей искать свой путь вне узких рамок необузданного материализма, и/или отстраненного мистицизма, выросло движение «нью-эйдж».”
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